Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Nature and nature's God

Ryan Mavis is a militant apostate who went on the rampage over at Michael Patton’s blog. Since Michael decided to protect Ryan from me, I’ll post my final responses here. (I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to do it over there.)


By repeatable, I mean another scientist can either recreate the experiment OR can examine the data him/herself and come to the same conclusion given what we know. You are slow to catch on, man, and I tire of this one-upmanship game of winning some random online argument.

Ryan routinely makes indefensible statements, then when he can’t defend them, says I’m slow to catch on. Seems more like he’s the one having to constantly revise his hyperbolic claims.

No, but another researcher can follow the same line of reasoning another researcher uses, examine the same relevant evidence, and see if his conclusion matches the other researchers. Someone who experiences a miracle can't have someone else follow their chain of reasoning in this way. Isn't that obvious?

Experiencing or witnessing a miracle is no different than experiencing or witnessing a non-miraculous event. Same limitations when sifting testimonial evidence for a past event, be it miraculous or non-miraculous. Some historical events have one witness, while others have multiple witnesses. Some miraculous events have one witness, while others have multiple witnesses.

Physicists around the world need not be at the Large Hadron Collider to conduct the experiment again. They can review the data collected and verify the findings of the scientists who originally made the claim. The Higgs Boson event was a Sigma five event, which means the probability that it was due to chance is extraordinarily small. But you knew that, right, with all your non-scientific, keyboard warrior activities that you engage in?

Ryan’s problem is that he fails to anticipate objections to his claims. Then he gets miffed when he’s caught overstating his claims.

Moreover, he’s changing the argument. His original argument wasn’t about the probability of the claim, but a “select few” witnesses.

You asked the following: if only a select few witnesses observed a meteorite impact, would it be scientific to identify the cause as a meteor? I responded by reminding you that science isn't just based on first-hand eyewitness testimony, but on uncovering patterns of causation. We know what meteorite impact sites look like, how fast they travel, what sort of blast radius they leave (like you mentioned). So, the failure on your part was your inability to recognize that it doesn't matter how many people observe an event. What matters is if large numbers of scientists can reliably - and in ways that can be repeated by other researchers - establish a causal pattern based on what we know.

Let’s see. Ryan original said:

So, a methodological naturalist could witness a supernatural event, and identify the supernatural as the cause. Nonetheless, he couldn't use the cause to inform our scientific body of knowledge. The cause would have to be repeatable, observable to more than just a select few…

Now, however, it suddenly becomes a failure on my part to realize that it “doesn't matter how many people observe an event.”

Seems like Ryan is reversing himself without admitting it. 

It would. But when I mentioned observed by only a select few, I mean we can only rely on those few individuals and just take their word for it.

Actually, for historical knowledge, that’s precisely the situation in which we often find ourselves, like oral histories. And keep in mind that this overlaps with scientific knowledge. Scientists rely on testimonial evidence for some natural events, like historic weather conditions at a particular time and place (e.g. the fate of the Donner-Reed Party on the California Trail).

We can't replicate the conditions that produced the cause, or verify it ourselves. Is that clear now?

So how does that concession affect your objection to miracles? For that applies to historical and miraculous events alike.

We'd still die in our thirties or forties if you had things you're way and we based action on reason alone and not on experience.

Well, it’s nice to see you admit that Christian faith is reasonable. However, it’s not as if Christian faith doesn’t have a place for experience. You’re the one who’s preempting experience with miracles, answered prayer, &c. What about the argument from religious experience?

What if the gravitational acceleration constant changed suddenly tomorrow? What if mathematical laws changed tomorrow? It could happen, so if you try to establish criteria for determining mathematical or physical laws, I can rightly say that your criteria is false because of some imaginary scenario I dreamed up that could possibly happen? Give me a break. You sound like a lunatic.

i) You’re confusing truths of fact with truths of reason. Mathematical truths are necessary truths, whereas gravity is a contingent fact. At best, the gravitational constant is nomologically necessary, not metaphysically necessary.

ii) Actually, naturalism has a problem grounding the necessity of math. That’s why naturalists resort to fictionalism, intuitionism, constructivism, Platonism.

Not the kind of wild, implausible thought experiments that say: What if all natural laws changed tomorrow??

i) Miracles don’t require “all natural laws” to change.

ii) You’re also prejudging what kind of world we live in. If miracles happen, then that doesn’t entail any change in the status quo. Rather, the status quo allows for miracles. If miracles happen, then that’s one of the ways in which the world operates. Nothing has changed, for that’s the kind of world God made. God doesn’t have to alter the world to perform a miracle. It’s not as if he first makes a clockwork universe where miracles can’t happen, then has to smash the clock every time he wants to perform a miracle. It was never a clockwork universe in the first place.

You aren’t engaging the case for miracles on its own terms.

 What then? What if God really exists and turned water to wine, told Abraham to kill his son…

Does God’s command to sacrifice Isaac violate a law of nature?

…crammed Noah and his family and all animals on earth into a large ark while the earth was flooded.

Notice how that objection is inconsistent with Ryan’s own view of Scripture. From Ryan’s perspective, the ancient narrator knew nothing about China, India, Indonesia, Northern Europe, Russia, North and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, &c. That didn’t fall within his purview.

When Ryan (re-)interprets the descriptors in Gen 6-9 in global terms, he’s unconsciously supplementing what the ancient narrator knew with what we know. At best, he’s taking the narrator’s understanding as a starting-point, then extending that based on what we think the world is like. Based on our modern knowledge of world geography and biogeography.

But that replaces the original frame of reference with our modern frame of reference, which stands in contrast to the original frame of reference. For interpretive purposes, the frame of reference is not what we (the modern reader) happen to think the world is like, but what the author and his target audience thought the world was like.

To take a comparison:

Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth (Gen 41:57).

Does this mean the narrator is telling the reader that people from Honolulu, the Yukon, or the Amazon River basin, made a trek to Egypt to buy grain? No, that would be anachronistic. Rather, it refers to neighboring countries.

…let a talking snake seduce Eve into eating the apple.

Actually, I agree with scholars who think the narrator is trading on ophiomantic symbolism, viz., B.C. Hodge, Revisiting the Days of Genesis (Wipf & Stock, 2011), 111-18.

None of this sounds like myth. None of this is the sort of thing anthropology can better explain than just taking the writings at face value.

I don’t think the occult, the paranormal, and the miraculous is at odds with comparative anthropology.

Of course we can never know if the supernatural exists. But we shouldn't have anything to say about it, because it's above nature, it's beyond our power to observe closely and scrutinize.

Mind is above matter. That doesn’t mean we can’t observe or scrutinize the effects of mind on matter.

No. You should have quoted my entire comment, Fox News. I said it would probably or at least could have a natural mechanism behind it. If it didn't, then it couldn't be used in science. Why? Because it's effect would be different every time, and thus unpredictable. What would science say? When witchcraft happens, anything happens?

i) Your contention is circular. You’re redefining everything that happens in naturalist terms. You deny that witchcraft happens because that’s supernatural. But if witchcraft is real, then you postulate some natural mechanism behind it. You’re not allowing experience to inform your worldview. Rather, you begin with a stipulative worldview that filters experience.

ii) Moreover, your inference is illogical. Why would the effects of witchcraft be different every time? To the contrary, wouldn’t there be a correlation between what the adept intended and what happened?

iii) Why do you say, when witchcraft happens, anything happens? How did you arrive at that conclusion?

Witchcraft involves finite agents with finite abilities. Limited creatures.

iv) Suppose witchcraft did introduce a degree of unpredictability into nature? So what? How does that consequence count as evidence against witchcraft? What if nature is not fully predictable?

Your methodology is aprioristic rather than empirical. You begin with the way you think the world ought to be. You posit a fully predictable, mechanistic world. But what if that is not in fact the way the world works? What if mental causation is a factor in natural events?

And who are you to know the mind of God…

If God reveals his will.

No comments:

Post a Comment